RSS

Category Archives: minorities

Mind your own religion


I found it an interesting read and thought it should be shared with my readers. The figure of 108,000 is huge and impressive when it is meant the number of those who have converted to Islam (by choice?) since 1989 by a man who was once a Hindu. In the town of Matli of Badin district, Sindh, Deen Mohammad Shaikh, a 70-year-old, wishes to see the entire world becoming Muslim.

Frankly, he did not inspire me as his wish hurts my ‘perfect world’ philosophy which shapes a way to the coexistence of all human beings with different faiths, creeds, ideologies, and cultures. I have not intended to comment on this for the sake of just criticism, but the disappointment has provoked me to share those resentful feelings.  The mindset of “Muslims winning, ruling the world” has a deep meaningful connection to Muslims psychological euphoria of being “superior.” The superiority which they have inherited from their glorious history which has created winners and conquerors is a push that keeps the fire burning.

I would wait till the day when a Hindu or, for that matter, a Christian decides to convert Muslims and Muslims all over the world will go gaga, protesting, burning properties, and killing people from other religions. Hold on, how easily the great Pakistani Muslims have chosen to forget the hard work they have put in harassing, intimidating and killing Ahmaids, Christians, Hindus and many more?

The only Muslim and Pakistani Nobel laureate was Abdus Salam who won it for his work on the electroweak unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces in 1979. No one else since then has reached to that level of excellence, and brought fame to this country, but he, too, suffered from the hate and negligence from this ‘religion stricken country’. His crime was that he was a proud Ahmadi. We bask in the glory of Muhammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi, but ignore the existing pride out of our extreme bias, hatred and prejudice for those whose beliefs are different. Muhammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi are past and I am not fully convinced if they are my heroes, but Abdus Salam certainly is. This country needs more of such people and their religion is not my business.

I stop here, enjoy the read….

 MATLI: Such are Deen Mohammad Shaikh’s powers of persuasion that he has converted 108,000 people to Islam since 1989, the year he left his birth religion Hinduism behind.

His multi-coloured business card describes the Matli dweller as the president of the Jamia Masjid Allah Wali and Madrassa Aisha Taleem-ul Quran – an institute for conversions to Islam.

The reedy 70-year-old brandishes an embellished cane. A red-and-white keffeiyah perched on his shoulder offers people a hint to his theological leanings.

As he speaks to The Express Tribune, his arm slices an invisible arc through the air. He is gesturing to a vast expanse of nine acres of donated land where converts are invited to pitch a tent and stay. “My heartfelt wish is that the entire world becomes Muslim,” comes his response, when asked about the en masse conversions. His piety is matched only by its ambition.

But contrary to the grandiose proclamation, this preacher isn’t a repository of rehearsed sound bites. It is only after he settles down on a charpoy that he deigns to embark on the journey of a Hindu named Jhangli who became an expert in evangelism.

“I always loved Islam,” he begins. “I read the Holy Quran and realised that 360 gods were not of any use to me.”

At first he had to study the Holy Quran in secret. There was the risk of being misunderstood if a Muslim caught him with the holy book. He started fasting and in fact he would begin a day before Ramazan started.

Shaikh’s mother grew alarmed at her son’s forays into another faith. She thought that if she married him off, he would not ‘leave’. Thus, he was barely 15 when his wedding took place, followed by a quick overtaking by nature – four girls and eight boys.

But despite this, he was drawn back to his curiosity and managed to find a teacher, Sain Mohammad Jagsi, who instructed him in the Holy Quran and Hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).

Fortunately, Shaikh’s uncle was of the same mind and the two men agreed that they would give each other the strength. Shaikh held off until his daughter was married to a Hindu as planned, since he had already “given his word”. Then there was no turning back.

After his conversion, Deen Mohammad Shaikh made it his mission to woo others. He began in his own backyard, preaching to family, before venturing beyond this comfort zone. Encounters with the rich and powerful helped pave the way. Retired Pakistan Army general Sikandar Hayat, who owns a sugar mill in Matli, offered Shaikh money, which he turned down. Instead, he urged Hayat to give jobs to some of the new converts. Hayat and his daughter proved extremely helpful in providing assistance.

Now, Shaikh says, his fame has spread and people come to him from as far as Balochistan, members of all religions and sects, who would like to convert. A small mosque has sprung up in his residential compound along with a number of rooms where children – mostly girls – are taught how to say their prayers and recite the Holy Quran.

One of the teachers is 14-year-old Sakina, who is just 15 days into the job. “Only a few students are difficult to teach,” she says while commenting on their ability to recite a text in an unknown language.

Shaikh is aware of the difficulties converts face while taking on what appear to be the initially daunting rigours of a brand new system. He makes life easy for the first 40 days. “They only have to pray farz!” he says while referring to the mandatory parts. This relaxed schedule ensures that they can ‘confirm their faith’. He understands that if he demanded they start out with praying five times a day to offer even the optional and ‘bonus’ parts, “They would run away!” as he puts it with a look of mock horror on his face.

Other than this, he is reluctant to actually explain how he influences the people. All he offers is a nugget of fire and brimstone: “I tell them that I was a Hindu too and that they would burn in Hell if they are not Muslim.”

More than saving a soul

There are other practical considerations that accompany conversions. In order to ‘save’ the converts from influential Hindus in other districts, Shaikh packs them off to Hub Chowk while the Kalima is still moist on their lips. “Their families would beat them up (for converting) otherwise,” he explains.

This trick of the ‘trade’ he learnt from personal experience. He alleges that he was kidnapped along with his daughter-in-law by influential Hindus who threatened him so that he would stop converting people. “They don’t want these poor Hindus to stand up to them when they become Muslims,” Shaikh maintains.

Despite 108,000 conversions, for which a record is kept, Shaikh still doesn’t feel his work is done. He wants everyone to be a Muslim and learn from his example. He also attends the Tablighi Jamaat’s annual congregation in Raiwind, although he doesn’t believe in sectarian divisions. “All groups are like brothers to me,” he declares.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2012.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Hindus, minorities

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kalash falls to Kalash–nikov


An honest answer to one simple question about your identity as a Pakistani or a Muslim explains the roots of extremism and an increasing intolerance among this society. I was asked this question many years ago, and my answer was not logical rather an abrupt and sudden gush of emotions. I said I am a Muslim first. The later years have weakened or killed that emotion and today I would like to answer in a different way.

The white patch in Pakistan’s flag which seems evaporating now, determines the answer. We are Pakistani first is a simple answer to this white patch. The difference in views of majority is stark. Majority now dreams of a homeland only for Muslims and the survival for rest depends on their submission to majority’s religion.

A few months ago, my friend Saad Sarfraz Sheikh, went to Kalash, a beautiful valley in the northwest of Pakistan, to capture its exotic beauty and rich culture. A tiny tribe of total 4,500 people, which cannot be a considerate share of the total 180 million Pakistanis, is about to be nonexistent. He returned with breathtaking pictures, but seemed perturbed. In the middle of the Kalash fairytale, he mentioned his visit to a school which did not have pupils for some unknown and known reasons. The school’s timetable shows a class of Islamic studies for the students who do not believe in Islam. How would Muslims feel if they are forced to attend a class on Christianity? In my view, they will be marching on roads, burning tyres and property, and calling it a threat to Islam and a Jewish conspiracy against Muslims. My friend mentioned that how tremendously Kalash has changed due to the extremist elements forcing the people to convert to Islam. Some radical Muslims, bound to spread Islam by force, began building mosques in the valley for Kalashis, who claim descent from Alexander the Great’s army.

The valley runs along the border ofAfghanistanand for centuries, they sacrificed animals and practiced polytheism without any interference from the Muslim community.

So what has changed now? The youth of this country, mainly inspired by Jihad against then Soviet Union, have grown up brandishing radicalized version of Islam. The concept of coexistence is at stake in this country, which has minimized the chances of survival for our minorities. Now the question arises that can all flee from this country in sheer despair and frustration? Will this country have space only for a particular sect of Islam? But we need to ask ourselves if we are humans or Pakistanis first or Muslims later? If the answer is Pakistanis first, I see hope.

Reuters Story:

Nestled among the valleys of Pakistan’s mountainous northwest, a tiny religious community that claims descent from Alexander the Great’s army is under increasing pressure from radicals bent on converting them to Islam.

The Kalash , who number just about 3,500 in Pakistan’s population of 180 million, are spread over three valleys along the border with Afghanistan. For centuries they practiced polytheism and animal sacrifice without interference from members of Pakistan’s Muslim majority.

But now they are under increasing danger from proselytising Muslim militants just across the border, and a hardline interpretation of Islam creeping through mainstream society — as Pook Shireen discovered.

After falling unconscious during a car accident , the mid-20s member of the paramilitary Chitral Scouts woke to find that people with him had converted him to Islam.

“Some of the Muslim people here try to influence the Kalash or encourage them by reading certain verses to them from the Koran,” said his mother, Shingerai Bibi.

“The men that were with him read verses of the Koran and then when he woke up they said to him, ‘You are a convert now to Islam’. So he converted.”

The conversion was a shock for his family. But they were lucky compared with other religious minorities under threat from growing religious conservatism that is destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

In May 2010, more than 80 Ahmadis, a minority who consider themselves Muslims but are regarded by Pakistan as non-Muslim, were killed in attacks on two mosques in Lahore.

Then in March this year, the Christian minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, whose job it was to protect groups like the Kalash, was assassinated outside his home in the capital, Islamabad, in an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

SMOOTH CO-EXISTENCE

The lush green Kalash valleys, which sit below snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush, have been a magnet for tourists, both for the scenery and for the people, who are indigenous to the area.

Most are fair and with light eyes, which they say proves their descent from the army of Alexander of Macedonia that passed through the area in the 4th century BC to invade India. The community brews its own wine and women are not veiled.

But the smooth co-existence between the Kalash and Muslims has been fading in recent months and the area is suffering from many of the religious tensions marring the rest of Pakistan.

The conversions are causing splits among the Kalash — converts become outcasts overnight, described by many as “dead to their families”.

“When a Kalash converts we don’t live with them in our houses anymore,” said farmer Asil Khan, sitting on a neighbor’s balcony.

“Our festivals and our culture are different. They can’t take part in the festivals or the way we live.”

Some in the area are so concerned that they believe segregation is the only way to protect the Kalash.

“We should move the Muslims out of the valley to make more room for the Kalash,” said Shohor Gul, a Kalash member of the border police who lives in Rumbur valley. “This area should be just for us. We dislike these conversions – it disturbs our culture and our festivals, and it reduces our numbers.”

The subject of Kalash festivals is raised often in these narrow valleys, where carefully cultivated corn crops cover what flat land exists, and the Kalash community’s distinctive wooden houses terrace the valley walls.

Held to usher in seasonal change or to pray for a good harvest, Kalash festivals include hypnotic dancing and animal sacrifice, fueled by the grape wine with which the Kalash lace their gatherings.

Converts to Islam say, though, that these rituals quicken the decision to leave the Kalash.

“The main thing wrong in the Kalash culture are these festivals,” said 29-year-old convert Rehmat Zar. “When someone dies the body is kept in that house for three days.”

Muslims usually bury people the day they die.

Zar added of the Kalash: “They slaughter up to a hundred goats and the family are mourning – but those around them are celebrating, beating drums, drinking wine and dancing. Why are they celebrating this? That’s wrong.”

NOT ALL MUSLIMS

Not all of the area’s Muslims feel this way.

Qari Barhatullah is the imam, or priest, at the Jami Masjid in Bumboret valley’s Shikanandeh village.

He stresses that many of the valley’s Muslims value the Kalash’s contributions to the area’s tourism industry and contends that Kalash festivals run parallel to their own.

He admits though that there is tension between the two communities. Unveiled Kalash girls in colorful homemade skirts and head-dresses grow up alongside Muslim women covered by the all-enveloping burqas.

The Kalash girls are also free to marry who they chose, in a country where arranged marriages are common.

“We do support the Kalash – Islam teaches us respect for other religions – but there are people here, maybe they are not as educated – who don’t like the Kalash because of their religion,” Barhatullah said.

Akram Hussain oversees the Kalasha Dur, a cultural center devoted to promoting and protecting the Kalash culture, a stunning structure of elegantly crafted carved wooden beams and stone where Kalash children are educated. It also houses a library, clinic and museum, which are open to both the Kalash and Muslim communities.

“Some of the Muslims here don’t want to educate the Kalash people. They don’t want us to have an education,” he said.

Without more schools that cater exclusively to the Kalash, though, Hussain worries his community and culture will be disappear.

“There are few Kalash teachers and there aren’t schools for older children, so they go to the secondary schools and learn about Islam. The Muslim teachers are brainwashing them. They tell the children that Islam is the only right way and that we are going to hell,” he said.

A provincial spokesman said the regional government is funding development projects for the Kalash and that Pakistan was committed to protecting their unique heritage.

“We have set aside 15 million rupees ($173,210) over three years for projects such as improving roads, water supply systems and community centers,” said Ahmad Hassan. “Whatever the Kalash say they need.”

Others in the Kalash valleys though say development should cease and insist the adoption of Islam should continue, despite the impact on the Kalash culture.

Rehmat Zar, the Kalash convert, says his eventual aim is to convert his entire community to Islam.

“I’m trying my best to convert many of the Kalash myself. I’m trying to convert as many as I can,” he said.

“The people who are trying to preserve the Kalash culture are doing wrong. They are committing a mistake. The Kalash should convert to Islam because this is the real, and last, religion”. ($1 = 86.600 Pakistani rupees)

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bhatti killing pushes Pakistan closer to the brink


Minority Rights Group International: Jared Ferrie

The assassination of Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities, Shabaz Bhatti, who was brutally killed Wednesday on the streets of Islamabad, was described as an attack on “the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds” by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As the only Christian member of the Pakistani government, the Vatican also considered it timely to comment, calling his death an act of “violence against Christians and religious freedom”.

While it is true that for decades Hindus and Christians, along with Shia, Sufi, and Ahmadi Muslims have suffered persecution in Pakistan, it is necessity to delineate these statements. After all, Bhatti’s death not only speaks to the obvious and continued stranglehold that Islamic extremism has on the Pakistani government, but also, the consequences of its continued influence on the country’s educated middle-class, judiciary and military.

In a claim of responsibility, Taliban spokesmen stated that Bhatti’s murder was a message to Pakistanis of all backgrounds who oppose the country’s long-standing blasphemy law. Introduced in the 1970s, the controversial law makes insulting Islam, the Qur’an, or the Prophet Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Critics claim, however, that it is often used to justify the persecution of minorities.

The real problem facing the Pakistani government over the last forty years is that, while radical Islamic groups enjoy periods of safe haven in the northern tribal regions of the country, they have also proven to be something the country’s ruling elite just cannot rid themselves of internally. Bhatti’s murder joins what has become a tradition of extremists killing liberal politicians at will, and follows the January murder of liberal Punjabi governor, Slaman Tasser, who was killed by his one of his own bodyguards.

Though Islamists have done very poorly in Pakistani elections, the country’s moderates do very little to publicly criticize these types of violent crimes. Further, while Pakistan’s military and intelligence community (ISI) claim to be rigorously hunting down terrorists domestically, Afghan Taliban groups continue to enjoy permanent operating residency in the notorious border region of North Waziristan.

With so much US military financing benefitting Pakistan, the epicenter of the global confrontation with radical Islam, the question remains: has terrorism in these countries become a cash crop? And if so, to what extant is the incompetence, indifference and corruption that allows it to continue to flourish there become an exploitable resource for its leaders?

Trevor Westra is a graduate of Canada’s Laurentian University in Religious Studies. He writes frequently on politics, globalization and the intersections of religion and history at his blog The Theo Log.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Assassinations, Blasphemy, minorities

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Pakistan killings are not about blasphemy


Guardian, Nick Cohen

After Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses, religious “scholars” doubted whether the Ayatollah Khomeini had the right to order his murder. They had no liberal qualms about executing a writer for subjecting religion to imaginative scrutiny. They believed that blasphemers and apostates must die as their religion insisted. But only if they were citizens of an Islamic state. As Rushdie was living in London in 1989, a free man in a free country, the clerics concluded that religious law did not apply to him.

The Rushdie controversy was the Dreyfus affair of the late 20th century. It established today’s dividing lines between the secular and the authoritarian, between those who were willing to defend freedom of thought and inquiry and those who wanted to censor and self-censor to keep fanatics happy. We can gauge how low we have sunk by remembering that at the start of the battle 23 years ago there was a tiny regard for the forms of legality, even among those who were otherwise happy to condemn free thinkers to death. However brutal they were, they respected their version of due process.

The Islamist murders first of Salmaan Taseer and then of Shahbaz Bhatti show that what tiny scruples blood-soaked men possessed vanished long ago. The best way to describe the terror which is reducing Pakistani liberals to silence is to enumerate what the assassins did not allege. They did not say that Taseer and Bhatti must die because they were apostates – or, to put that “crime” in plain language, because they were adults who decided they no longer believed in the Muslim god. Taseer had not renounced Islam. Bhatti could not renounce it as he was the bravest Christian in Pakistan, who campaigned for equal rights for persecuted minorities with the dignity and physical courage of a modern Martin Luther King.

Nor did their assassins claim that their targets had committed the capital crime of blasphemy. Taseer and Bhatti had not said that the Koran, like the Talmud and the New Testament, was the work of men not god. They did not denounce Muhammad’s morality or offer any criticism of his life and teaching. If you wanted to reduce the whirling, brilliant narrative of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses to a single sentence, you could say that it was in part a “blasphemous” account of the early history of Islam. Taseer and Bhatti attempted nothing so brave. They confined themselves to making the modest point that Pakistan’s death penalty for blasphemy was excessive and barbaric, and that was enough to condemn them. Their killers murdered them for the previously unknown crime of advocating law reform: blew them away for the new offence of blaspheming against blasphemy.

One Pakistani journalist I spoke to described his fellow liberals as members of a persecuted minority, who now knew that if they spoke out, they would be shot down. Salmaan Taseer’s daughter, Shehrbano, wrote a heartbreaking piece for the Guardian in which she despaired of a “spineless” Pakistani elite that was too frightened to praise her father or condemn his murderers.

In the networked world, censorship by the authoritarian state or clerical paramilitaries is meant to matter less. Technology enthusiasts can point to Twitter revolutions as proof of how emancipatory democratic ideas seep into apparently closed societies. But the ideas that Pakistanis need from America, Europe or “the west” to help fight armed theocracy are not there for surfers to find.

Fear plays its part in keeping western opinion quiet as well. It is hard to credit, but liberal society responded pretty well to the threat to Rushdie in 1989. Penguin refused to withdraw the Satanic Verses. Booksellers ignored threats and bombs and carried on selling it. But once the global wave of terror had passed, no one wanted to put themselves through what Rushdie and Penguin had been through, and a silence descended. Even the supposedly militant “new atheists,” whom genteel commentators damn for their vulgarity, steer clear of religions that might kill them. Close readers of Richard Dawkins will notice that almost all his examples of clerical folly are drawn from the Catholic and American evangelical churches, whose congregations are unlikely to firebomb his publishers.

The fear is still present. Last month, four men were convicted of slashing the face and fracturing the skull of Gary Smith, a London teacher who had made the mistake of taking the windy official pronouncements about “promoting diversity” seriously and taught Muslim girls about Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. Political violence comes from the British National Party, English Defence League and various splinter groups from the IRA, as well as Islamists, and that is before you raise your gaze and examine the assorted gun-totting crazies who inhabit the fringe of American politics.

The difference between Islamism and the rest is that liberals are happy to denounce white extremists, while covering up militant Islam with the wet blanket of political correctness. They do not confine themselves to saying that, of course, society must protect people from being murdered for their religion, as Slobodan Milosevic murdered the Bosnian Muslims, and punish employers who refuse jobs to members of creeds they dislike, as Protestant employers in Northern Ireland once refused to hire Catholics. They maintain it is illicit to criticise religious ideas. Thus, along with the admittedly faint fear of violence, western writers who want to provide arguments against religious misogyny, homophobia, racism and censorship must also live with the fear that their contemporaries will accuse them of orientalism or Islamophobia.

The world may pay a price for the monumental blunder of treating religious ideologies – which are beliefs that men and women ought to be free to accept or reject – as if they were ethnicities, which no man or woman can change. Not the smallest reason why the Arab revolution is such an optimistic event is that al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood have been left as gawping bystanders. Their isolation cannot last. Eventually, if Arab states move towards democracy, there will be a confrontation with political Islam. Arab liberals, like Pakistani liberals, will search the net for guidance. They will discover that far from offering strategies that might help, timorous western liberals have convinced themselves that it is “racist” to criticise raging fanatics who no longer even bother to pretend that they are anything other than liberalism’s mortal enemies.

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder: An attempt on the parliament’s right to debate legislative issues


PAKISTAN: Pakistan Peace Council terms the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti an attempt on the parliament’s right to debate legislative issues Karachi, March 04, 2011:

The Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC) strongly condemns the brutal murder of the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad on March 03, 2011. The murder on the pretext of the Minister’s opposition to the contentions of Blasphemy Laws is outrageous and an open challenge to the future stability of Pakistan, a statement issued by the Pakistan Peace Coalition read.

The PPC observed that Minister Bhatti was killed merely two months after the assassination of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, who too was silenced for his open remarks about the blasphemy laws. “The blame for Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder cannot just be attributed to the government alone. There are serious questions regarding the roles of the political parties, the parliament, the media, the judiciary and the security establishment, all having created an environment where fundamentals related to the right to live, minorities protection, freedom of speech, rule of law, parliament’s right to debate and amend laws are being challenged, and mobs and street forces are being manipulated to take law into their own hands.”

The PPC emphasised that the Blasphemy Laws is an issue for the parliament to debate, and not for the religious forces to decide. They neither have an electoral base nor do they have any relevance in the vision of a progressive national order. Likewise, the judiciary has a responsibility to uphold the sanctity of the constitutional provision of the right to live, freedom of speech and other fundamental constitutional guarantees. Time and again, the religious right has issued open decree inciting masses to murder and threaten the safety and wellbeing of individuals over issues that are a prerogative of the public representatives to decide. The religious forces neither have the electoral mandate nor do they represent a wider section of the population. The concerned authorities’ failure to take note of the series of violations of the rule of law by the religious mobs have made a direct contribution to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, while the life of another parliamentarian Sherry Rehman remains in danger for the same reason.

Declaring the Minorities Affairs Minister’s murder as another attempt to derail the democratic process, the PPC also criticised the role of progressive political parties in the parliament over the issue of the blasphemy laws. Today’s parliament carries the combination of the most progressive and democratic forces the country has ever had, yet their deafening silence over an issue that has been claiming one life after another is disappointing. We have seen that all those who sought to rationalise the debate on the blasphemy issue, including Gov. Salman Taseer, MNA Sherry Rehman and Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were not only isolated by the state, their fellow public representatives too did nothing to support their stand either in the house of representatives or in the public domain. As a result, we lost two leading lights upholding the right of the minorities. Pakistan’s current parliamentarians need to understand that it is not merely about the blasphemy laws, it is about the Parliament’s right to debate issues in the House that is being challenged. If the Parliament will continue to allow legislative issues discussed and decided on the streets, there are little chances of democratic process to survive in the country.

The PPC observed that Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder took place in spite of the Government’s public assertion, repeated ad nauseam, that it has no intention whatsoever to amend the Blasphemy Law! If the Prime Minister himself rules out any amendment to the law that has blatantly threatened citizens’ protection, and yet a Minorities Affairs Minister is murdered, there are clear signals that people who wish to take over the country would suppress all voices that stand in opposition to their regressive views.

The PPC cautioned that situation similar to 1977 is developing in the country. The recent series of events point to the empowerment of the religious forces by the security stablishment of the country. Various religious parties and sectarian groups seem to have set aside their traditional hatred of each other and are trying to cobble together a politico-religious platform from which to participate in the next elections with a violence-prone agenda of religious extremism. This is nothing short of a national disaster with much graver consequences this time.

Asian Human Rights Commission

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Debate with extremists in a non-confrontational way?


Karachi Literary Festival

In today’s world, Pakistan is known for all the possible bad reasons. The wave of terrorism and extremism, which was nurtured and well protected by Gen Zia, is  now damaging our homes. How many more to loose their lives is a question which remains unanswered especially after the assassination of Salman Taseer.

Who will be the next to stand up like him and support a victim of intolerance and extremism? Again I have no names in my mind after Sherry Rehman has withdrawn the bill to amend blasphemy laws. Now is silence acceptable or are we going to speak out?
It can be the strategy which is not being productive. I, somehow, agreed to what Karen Armstrong has suggested at Karachi Literary Festival. To a question on how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri, she said, “debate with them in a non-confrontational way rather attacking their belief system”.

I am not at all sure that it will work 100 per cent, but the options are already not many to deal with this extremism. It is just to try out anything that pops up and carries logic.

Below is the story:
Express Tribune

KARACHI: At the Karachi Literature Festival, Karen Armstrong laid out a charter of compassion, with the dangers of an overpowering ego at the centre of her argument.

With a packed hall of people eagerly listening, the session began with a question posed by moderator Abbas Husain: if compassion is the prescription for the symptoms of the disease that is intolerance, then what is the cause of the disease? Without a moment’s hesitation, Armstrong answered: “Ego”.

It is ego, argues Armstrong, that makes us place ourselves and our beliefs at the centre of the universe. It is that same ego that then causes us to degrade and denigrate the beliefs and arguments of others, that makes us enter debates not with the intention of learning from them, but with the aim of proving the other wrong and ourselves right.

The remedy Karen Armstrong proposes for this condition is compassion. Were we to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes, the world would be an infinitely better place.

It is hard to argue with that but how on earth, as one audience member asked, do you debate with those who would rather use a gun to win their arguments? In short, how are you going to convince Mumtaz Qadri?

Armstrong responded by saying that in her experience, most hardline religious groups are motivated by fear, the fear that their beliefs and way of life are going to be wiped out. Their violence then, is a reaction to that fear. The answer, according to her, is not to attack their belief system but rather to debate with them in a non-confrontational way.

It is a neat argument, but also one that ignores the fact that for many extremist groups the quest for power is now an end in itself. And that fear is for them more a tool than a motivating factor. She does of course accept the fact that the sentiments of hardline religious groups are often exploited for political purposes, drawing on examples from the United States all the way to Pakistan.

God is not a politician, says Armstrong, but there is no denying that His word is used for political gain.

Another audience member argued that since religious beliefs seem to lead to violent arguments, perhaps the answer is to remove religion from our lives altogether. To this Armstrong responded that Homo Sapiens were in fact Homo Religiosis, and that denying religion is alien to human nature.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Persecution of minorities


Dawn, Shada Islam

SO it has come to this. Reading about Sherry Rehman’s decision to drop her attempt to amend Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, I had three quick thoughts.

First, hats off to a very brave woman. Second, shame on a government and country which cannot protect its minorities from human rights abuses, violence and extremism. Third, forget criticism from Pakistan and other Muslim countries of so-called ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and America: people in glass houses should not throw stones at others.

Being part of a minority is not easy in any part of the world. History is replete with horrifying examples of persecution of minorities, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda. But I never expected the country I was born in to turn into this sad land of intolerance and ignorance.

Growing up in Pakistan all those years ago, I was taught that the constitution protected Muslims and that the white strip on the Pakistan flag represented Pakistan’s minorities. We lived in a vibrant, diverse multi-cultural community. Like many women my age, I was taught by Christian teachers, brought up by Hindu ayahs and learned ballet from exquisite Parsi ballet dancers. But times have changed, tolerance and accommodation, the concept of ‘live and let live’ have given way to persecution and discrimination.

Pakistan is not alone in treating its minorities as second-class citizens. Across the Muslim world today, being a Christian means at best being subject to hostility and discrimination and in the worst case, facing the death sentence. What I find particularly galling is that the countries — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan for example — which mete out the harshest treatment to their Christian communities are the most vocal when it comes to denouncing ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and the US. Frankly, I am getting fed up with such accusations.

Having kept a very close eye on Europe’s 20 million-strong Muslim communities over the last 10 years, I can safely say: yes, it has been a challenging decade for European Muslims but most would agree that it is better to be a Muslim in Europe than a Christian (or a Hindu) in a Muslim country.

There is no doubt that the 9/11 terrorist attacks, followed by the publication of caricatures of the Prophet (PBUH) by several European newspapers, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, as well as subsequent real and suspected terrorist activity in Europe, have resulted in increased suspicion, surveillance and stigmatisation of Europe’s Muslim communities.

Most European governments have enacted tough new anti-terrorist legislation. Populist parties, using a simple anti-foreigner/anti-Islam rhetoric, have gained more influence and power in many EU countries. Mainstream politicians have adopted an equally strident anti-Islam and anti-Muslim narrative to win votes and improve their ratings in opinion polls.

The discussion on integration has been further muddied by rising European concerns about the arrival of refugees and asylum-seekers. In the process, journalistic ethics have suffered, with few journalists ready to challenge prejudice, clichés and misleading reports. Undoubtedly, Europe’s commitment to core values, including human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, has taken a blow.

In addition, Europe’s post 9/11 attitudes towards Islam are linked to security concerns and fears of radicalisation of the continent’s Muslims but also reflect uncertainty about European identity. Making matters worse, an uncertain economic climate in many European countries as well as the presence of weak leaders unable to ease public anxieties about globalisation and unemployment have made it easier for populist politicians to spread a simple albeit toxic xenophobic message: the West is headed for a clash with Islam and Muslims.

However, this is only part of the story. Despite the anxiety about the visible presence of Islam and Muslims in the public space, the last 10 years have also been marked by transition and change in the lives of European Muslims.

The spotlight on European Muslims has had a positive effect by helping Muslims and host communities confront difficult issues of integration and multiple identities which had been neglected and overlooked over decades.

Governments are slowly combining a security-focused prism with a more balanced approach which includes an integration agenda and Muslim outreach programmes. Government and business recruitment policies are being changed gradually to increase the employment of Muslims and minorities. Business leaders are demanding an increase in immigration, including from Muslim countries, to meet Europe’s skills shortage. The EU has adopted a new anti-discrimination directive in the new Lisbon Treaty which strengthens existing rules on combating racism.

Significantly, European Muslims are becoming more active in demanding equal rights as full-fledged citizens, organising themselves into pressure groups, and emerging as influential politicians, entrepreneurs and cultural and sports icons. Ten years after 9/11, the challenge for European governments and European Muslims is to hammer out a fresh narrative which looks at European Muslims as active and full-fledged citizens rather than as exotic foreigners.

Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments on the failure of multiculturalism in Europe, the continent today is a vibrant mix of people, cultures and religions. Integration and mainstreaming is taking place and there is slow but steady recognition that all Europeans, whatever their religion, ethnic origins and cultural background, share a common space.

More time and hard work will be needed before Europeans elect their own Barack Obama and readily embrace and celebrate diversity. But work on such a goal has begun.

My advice to Muslim governments is simple: stop ranting against the West, take a few lessons in citizenship and minority rights from Europe and America and start listening to all your citizens, not just the small number of extremists which carry guns.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Ahmadis, Blasphemy, Christians, minorities

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.